Waterloo Housing Woes – A Guide to Off-Campus Housing

Put plainly, searching for off-campus student housing sucks. Finding a place that suits all your needs, is clean, and within your budget is possible, but often times you have to lower your expectations or increase your budget to find good accommodation. Personally, student housing has caused me much frustration over the three years I’ve been in Waterloo, so I’ve decided to put together a list of stuff I wish I knew earlier.

Here are some tips so that you don’t get swindled by ‘big housing’:

Looking for a sublet? The Student Housing groups on Facebook are your best bet – many students post here daily trying to find someone to take over their accommodations, often at discounted prices.

If you want a typical student apartment – 1 to 5 bedrooms with bathrooms and a living space, these are the easiest to find, just because of their abundance. Seriously, just look at the report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp – there’s already an oversupply of 5000+ beds of student accommodation in Waterloo, and housing companies just keep building. This option is a mixed bag, and sometimes you don’t even get what you pay for, namely when it comes to management.  One search on the UW subreddit will bring up a multitude of horror stories of cockroach infestations and landlords blackmailing students. Good luck trying to get your $200 key deposit back.

If you want a house for that traditional frat experience, or for a ‘home-away-from-home’ feeling, get ready to do some searching. Kijiji and UW Off-Campus Housing (OCH) are your best options. These are often cheaper than typical apartments, depending on their location and condition. Sometimes, you can find places for as low as $300 a month. Be prepared to pay for utilities or furnishings though. The good thing about houses is that they’re often managed a lot better than places owned by big companies. Landlords will treat you like an actual human being and reply to your maintenance requests in a timely manner, rather than leaving you without hot water or internet for a week.

Negotiating can land you an even better deal, but be reasonable. It is way easier to try to negotiate housing with a fellow student than with a landlord or housing company. In fact, most of the big housing companies don’t even allow for negotiations, especially when starting a new lease in the fall. They might offer discounts for early birds though, if you’re ready to sign for fall accommodation at the beginning of the year (typically from Dec-Apr).

Also, I shouldn’t have to repeat this after the ICON incident, but DO NOT sign for a place that is not fully built yet. Delays are very common and almost inevitable, and you don’t want to be left with nowhere to call home as the school term starts.

To give a better idea of what to look out for, here’s an outline of how the yearly student housing market works in Waterloo:

Fall (Sept-Dec): This is when most new leases begin. Housing companies and landlords mark up their prices to adjust to the growth of housing demand during this time, as fall is typically when the new school year begins for most students. During this time, 4-month sublets are pretty non-existent, so be aware. 8-month leases are uncommon but possible starting in September, but be prepared to pay extra for this convenience.

Winter (Jan-Apr): You have pretty good chances of finding a sublet for this time as many students are on co-op during the winter. Leases, however, are rare, especially from the big housing companies. You might find independent landlords willing to lease at this time, but you might have to do a bit of extra searching. You might find lease takeovers for 8 months or longer from people who signed a new lease in September.

Summer (May-Aug): This is either the easiest term to find housing for, or the most difficult, depending on what you’re looking for. Apparently, everyone and their mother is on co-op or off school during this period, so there’s no lack of cheap summer sublets! You might even snag a luxury room at ICON or the like for a reasonable price. This sucks if you’re also looking to sublet your place, there’s a ton of competition and you’ll probably end up losing money. Finding a lease, however, is a bit of a hassle. Yes – some companies do offer leases starting in May, but often for higher prices. If you’re looking for 8 month accommodation starting in May, good luck.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here, but you should get the gist by now. My most crucial piece of advice is this: be informed on what you’re getting yourself into. Make sure to see what the place looks like before signing, or get a good idea from a video or picture tour if you can’t see the place in person. Search for reviews or stories on r/uwaterloo or on Facebook. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

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